The Director of The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO), Lord Singh of Wimbledon has written to Chaplaincy HQ, after they requested advice following an email sent to them by the Sikh Council. Please see full response below.
I would like to make the following observations:
1. The Sikh Council is well aware of the fact that the Sikh Chaplaincy Service under the NSO, has been the nationally recognised body to look to the spiritual and pastoral care of Sikhs in prisons, for more than 10 years. It is a pity that the Sikh Council did not have the courtesy to discuss this matter with myself. They are well aware that I am the Director of the SCS and NOMS Faith Advisor.
2. I am both saddened and concerned that a senior officer of the Sikh Council is either totally ignorant of basic Sikh teachings, or perhaps is trying to bend Sikh teachings to support a faction that rejects the Gurus’ message of equality.
The Sikh Council officer writes:
‘Context of concern: xxxxx is an initiated Sikh who strictly observes orthodox Sikh teachings. Part of his religious discipline is to follow the strict dietary laws of the Gurus teachings and in fact has taking an oath to God to practice such things. His observance of Sikhism is of the highest calibre and purity.
As you may already be aware, strict Sikh orthodox teachings of this nature require him to observe the following dietary law:
- Being lacto-vegetarian (i.e. not consuming any meat, fish or eggs but allowed to consume milk products).
- Only eating ‘cooked’ or ‘prepared food’ by spiritually disciplined initiated Sikhs.
- Using only pure iron utensils to cook and prepare the food and eating and drinking from a pure iron bowl or dish.
- Subsequently, Mr xxxxx has not eaten a proper meal since he was sent to prison, which was 6th June 2014. He has been eating one or two fruits which he washes before he eats, and drinking water using his cupped hands to drink as he refuses to use any of the plastic cups or bowls to drink or eat from.’
3. There is nothing whatever in Sikh scriptures to support eating out of a bowl made out of a particular material. Such superstitious beliefs are totally contrary to the whole thrust of Guru Nanak’s teachings.
4.The Sikh Council suggests that the prisoner says he will be violating his religious vows if he eats food served by anyone not of his particular sect. Sikhism does not do superstition. The Sikh Gurus stressed that the idea of pollution by eating food prepared by or served by others was totally contrary to the whole thrust of Sikh teachings which underline the importance of all people of all backgrounds and religions eating together to break down divisive taboos. This is the meaning of ‘langar‘.
It is sad that an officer of the Sikh Council refers to someone who flouts such teachings as ‘an initiated Sikh who strictly observes orthodox Sikh teachings’.
5. It is said that he is an Amrithari Sikh. The Amrit Ceremony specifically forbids Sikhs indulging in anti-Sikh practices. While the dietary practice of the individual concerned has nothing to do with Sikh teachings, the SCS is doing all it can to help the individual by supplying an iron bowl and helping with his dietary needs as far as practicable.
Lord Indarjit Singh (Sikh Faith Advisor to NOMS)